Sunday, June 30, 2013

RedRing Wanton Mee

C says:

RedRing Wanton Mee is named for the ring of red sauce that surrounds the noodles (when you order the spicy version). We visited RedRing after reading a recent article about how an entrepreneurial family, with barely any experience in the F&B industry, used science to research the perfect plate of wanton mee.

Chemistry graduate Roy Chan, who is off to Stanford to pursue a PhD in chemistry, researched each aspect of wanton mee with a scientist's eye, resulting in perfect precision in every plate.

The noodles are cooked using a special boiler that can cook and agitate 4 portions of noodles at a time. The timer is set so that each batch is cooked to a perfect springiness. The umami-laden secret sauce uses 14 ingredients, each selected for their natural flavour-enhancing properties.

Even the char siew has not been spared the chemical treatment. Using a cut near the armpit for its flavour and texture, the char siew is smoked onsite. Armed with an understanding of the chemical reactions involved in natural caramelisation of meat, they adjusted their smoking recipe and process to achieve a golden colour without the use of artificial colouring.

But fancy science is nothing if the food doesn't taste good. And the wanton mee at RedRing certainly tastes very, very good. We tried one spicy red sauce one, and one non-spicy. Despite the fact that the red sauce is probably their speciality (hence their name), I actually much prefer the non-spicy. The clean umami flavour of the sauce really comes through, without being distracted by the chilli.

The noodles are perfectly springy, without an excessive alkaline flavour, and both the fried wanton and the char siew are great accompaniments. The char siew is not too fatty, and indeed has a deep smokiness without being burnt.

They also serve boiled wantons doused in their non-spicy sauce. While I prefer their fried wantons, these boiled ones are a nice (healthier) change, and it doesn't hurt to get more of that delicious special sauce.

There's some talk lately about the future of street food, and how it seems to be a dying art. Which is why I have to give big props to RedRing - to me, this is probably the future of hawker food, with increasingly more educated individuals using their talent and knowledge to bring a whole new dimension to hawker classics.

A says:

Cheap and good, although the $3 portion is pretty small. Probably so you can get a side of boiled or fried won tons to share.

RedRing Wanton Mee
Block 46, Holland Drive
Chiangs Swallow Coffee Shop
Opening hours: 8.30 am - 7.30 pm
Closed Tuesdays

Thursday, June 27, 2013


C says:

We signed up for the Far Card (formerly known as Feed At Raffles) because there was a pretty good promotion on. It makes the most sense with 2 diners - the second diner essentially dines for free. We figured one visit to Jaan would more than recoup the annual fee for the card.

We visited Jaan on a Sunday evening, and had their 7-course Menu Prestige. They were still serving their Spring menus, so everything was quite bright, fresh and clean-tasting.

We started with a host of canapes, including a smoked eel with konbu jelly and chef's interpretation of hummus. The eel definitely stood out, for its smoky and umami flavours.

The amuse bouche was a sabayon with mushroom tea poured on top. The mushroom tea was light yet earthy, and went very well with the creamy sabayon.

First course was a Spring Infusion, featuring a host of fresh spring vegetables. While I'm not a fan of vegetables in fine dining, I must say these were excellent. They were fresh and sweet, and really did capture spring on a plate.

The next course was langoustine with ratte potatoes and caviar. The langoustine was just barely cooked, but the best thing on the plate was actually the potato.

Next up was one of chef's signature dishes - the Rosemary Smoked Organic Egg, featuring an egg that was cooked sous vide for 55 minutes. It arrived amidst plenty of drama, with dry ice swirling around springs of rosemary. It even had a bespoke wooden container with the words "L'oeuf qui fume" (smoking egg).

I guess the dish is a specialty for a reason. Ignoring the (in my opinion, somewhat unnecessary) drama and production, the egg is perfectly cooked, with the runny yolk pairing perfectly with the chorizo iberico and smoked ratte potatoes.

The foie gras course was a bit of a letdown. Little cubes of foie were served with seared strawberries, which when eaten together overpowered the foie. They were better deconstructed and eaten separately.

The fish course was a Roasted Atlantic Brill, with white and green asparagus, crayfish and garlic cream. Flavours were again very clean and very subtle, although there was a particularly flavorful parsley foam that added a flavour punch.

Another of chef's specialties is the Hay Roasted Bresse Pigeon. The leg was served confit style, and breast was roasted to a perfect rare. I don't know they managed to achieve such a perfect even rareness, but it was superb. I loved the gamey flavour of the pigeon, and the barley risotto and mushrooms were a great accompaniment.

After a palate cleansing sorbet, I had a lemon curd, verbena and elderflower dessert, while A had the Choconuts, which features 4 different types of chocolate. I preferred mine, as it echoed the Spring lightness of the rest of the meal.

Overall, food was definitely good. I liked the subtlety but I think A was hoping for or expecting bigger hits of flavour. Service was good, but somehow the whole dining experience seemed a bit cold. Everything was very professional but it lacked a warmth and personableness that I guess we favour.

We'll probably go back once, maybe twice more, while I still hold the Far Card, but we certainly won't pay full price.

A says:

The service and food are great, but the winner here is the view. So it makes a great place to treat guests if you have an big entertainment budget or want to celebrate a special occasion. Other than that, I don't think it's worth paying full price.

Swissotel, Equinox Complex
Tel: 9199-9008
Lunch: 12 noon - 2 pm
Sunday and public holidays: closed
Monday to Sunday: 7 pm - 10 pm
Public holidays: closed

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

World Street Food Congress 2013

C says:

When I first found out that the World Street Food Congress included a dialogue session with Anthony Bourdain, I was psyched… until I found out that tickets to the dialogue cost a whopping S$750. Needless to say, we passed and just went for the Street Food Jamboree – a showcase of 37 street food vendors from 10 countries, held at the Pit Lane.
The Jamboree was on for about 10 days, spanning 2 weekends. We therefore had 2 choices - go on the first weekend and face any inevitable teething problems, or go on the second weekend and risk them running out. We chose the latter, which on hindsight wasn't the smartest. The famous Noma porc sandwich ran out the day before, which was one of the things that we really wanted to try. Moral of the story - teething problems are still better than stocks running out.

Some highlights (for us) of the Jamboree were:

Porchetta sandwich from The People's Pig - sliced porchetta (Italian-style roast pork belly) on ciabatta with arugua and a generous dose of lemon. The rich, fatty pork was nicely tempered with the bitter arugula and lemon juice, making for a really flavourful yet refreshing sandwich.

A Vietnamese noodle dish known as Banh Da Tom Hai Phong - somewhat like a Vietnamese-style prawn noodle soup, with red rice noodles in a rich shrimp broth, and served with fried sliced fish.

The Hoy Turd, Thai-style oyster omelette, was an amazing version of our local orh luak. There was a smoky flavour, lots of wok hei, and the egg mixture had just enough starch to give texture but was still crispy. Beansprouts added a nice crunch, and the oysters were super fresh.

Mexican street food vendor La Guerrenrense is a legend, having been featured on numerous travel programmes and publications. They showcased a Tostada, a crisp flatbread topped with fresh seafood, and a cocktail of sorts with ceviche in a tomato gazpacho. Both were excellent - very refreshing and balanced, with really fresh seafood.

There were a couple of disappointments, most notably the soft-shell crab burger from renowned Portland food cart EuroTrash. By the time we visited, I guess the guys had gone back to the US, so the stall was manned by less-than-competent Shatec students. 6 people behind the counter were staring aimlessly into space while they waited for miniscule portions of crab to be fried. After all that, the $16 burger was definitely not worth the 15 minute wait.

Makansutra, the organisers of the Congress, have announced that despite making some losses this time round, they will continue to hold the event again next year. I'm glad - I think it definitely has potential, given how accessible street food is compared to fine dining. Some tweaks need to be made, like a different venue perhaps, and definitely a shorter duration, but if the vendor list is promising next year, we'll be there.

A says:

Some great food, but some stalls were either closed or sold out of what we wanted. Also, not cheap considering some portion sizes. We ended up paying $120 altogether. Plus, after we'd already paid for admission, they made admission free. Pweee!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

PasarBella - Oceans of Seafood

C says:

I must admit that we didn't have very high expectations of PasarBella, the new gourmet market that opened at the Grandstand amidst much hype. I perhaps unfairly assumed that it would simply be a poor copy of overseas farmers' markets, and that it would house the usual generic suspects like Da Paolo and Hubers. However, it turns out that even established vendors had to ensure that they had a distinctive angle, that would set their PasarBella outlet apart from their other branches.

PasarBella definitely channels New York's Chelsea Market, to some extent. You can't really expect the same farm-to-table concept here, simply because of geography, but there's a similar vibe and the tenant mix is quite promising.

It's very much a day-time place though. We were there at about 7 pm for dinner and all but a few stalls were already winding down. I could only gaze longingly at the huge paella pan that the folks at Le Patio were already washing up by then.

We ended up at Oceans of Seafood, a pretty sprawling seafood market that contains a few restaurants - Japanese, an oyster bar, a Western restaurant where you can order crabs, lobsters and some bisque and pasta, and a seafood market for raw fish and shellfish.

We weren't really sure where/what to eat, so we just went to the Japanese section and ordered a chirashi sushi each, and A's friend had some nigiri sushi. After waiting half an hour, and seeing plate after plate of fried sardines, boiled spot prawns, steamed lobster, sashimi and sushi being served to the family next to us, I lost my patience and asked them to check on our order. They came back and said it was currently being prepared. After pressing them about why it took so long, they finally said that the ticket had been overlooked. "So basically, you forgot?", I asked. "Yes", they finally admitted.

The chirashi was nothing great, and certainly not worth the wait and the service/attitude. Granted, we're not big spenders like the aforementioned family, who I reckon chalked up a $1,000 bill, but we're still paying customers and I expect to be treated no worse than they were.

Turns out that even though you're at the Japanese section, you can select fresh fish from the market and have them prepare it how you like (I saw some deep fried sardines that looked really good), and you can even order from the Western section. If we ever do come back to Oceans of Seafood after recce-ing the other stalls,we'll probably do that instead, because I was completely not impressed with the Japanese side.

So, thumbs up for PasarBella, but thumbs down for Oceans of Seafood. For now.

A says:

I fully expected PasarBella to suck. Thankfully, it doesn't. While it's nowhere near the standard of places like Borough or Chelsea, it's definitely a good attempt.

With regards to Oceans of Seafood, it's probably a good place if you want to drop loads of money on the fancy dishes. Other than that, it's totally not worth going.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Charlie & Co.

C says:

The people behind Jones the Grocer have brought in Sydney-based burger chain Charlie & Co to Singapore – the first outlet is in the basement (B4) of ION Orchard, alongside other eateries which have a storefront facing the public, and seating behind. The selling point of Charlie & Co’s burgers is that they feature 100% Australian wagyu beef.
I was actually slightly apprehensive, because I’ve always felt that “wagyu”, just like “kurobuta”, is a sometimes unnecessary tag-on these days – an attempt for eateries to elevate their dish above the ordinary. And of course, to charge more in the process. While you can probably taste the quality of wagyu beef in a dish where the meat is quickly seared, say, a steak or teppanyaki, it may not be the best choice for a burger, since the high fat content in wagyu beef will just render out while the burger is being cooked.

Anyway, my reservations in this case were misplaced. The burgers we had were really good, all things considered. A had the Classic Charlie Burger, with lettuce, tomato and choice of cheese (he picked aged cheddar), and I had a burger with bacon and double cheese (aged cheddar, by default). Mine packed a ton of flavour with the cheese and bacon, but perhaps a bit too much. I think A’s was overall more balanced.

The beef patties were juicy and flavourful, but I do have to highlight one point – the beef was minced quite coarsely, which we happen to really like because it adds texture in every bite. I can imagine some people not really liking this aspect though, on the basis that they think the coarser bits are too gristly.
We were surprised to read some articles/reviews mentioning a long wait for the food. When we were there at lunch time on a Saturday, only 2 tables (including ours) were occupied and our food came in very good time. Maybe they’ve since ironed out any initial teething problems.
A says:

IMO, this is the best burger under $20 in Singapore. I hope business isn't usually as quiet because I don't want this place to close.
Charlie & Co. 
2 Orchard Turn
#B4-56, ION Orchard
Tel: 6509-9511
Mon to Sun: 10 am to 10 pm

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


C says:

Kaixo, along Tanjong Pagar Road, supposedly specialises in pintxos, which are Basque-style tapas served with a skewer or toothpick, usually attaching an ingredient to a slice of bread. The pintxos at Kaixo were noticeably lacking that crucial detail, but that didnt make them any less tasty.

We ordered a selection of 3 - a bowl of squid with fried carrots, one with sardines and charred peppers and another with anchovies and potato salad. All were prepared really well, with very harmonious flavours.

The sauteed squid with scrambled eggs, an off-menu special, was ok, if somewhat generic.

Their Iberico pork loin was quite tasty, but unfortunately it was a tad overcooked and therefore a bit dry. The bacalao had a surprisingly mild flavour, to the point of being underseasoned, and the texture was somewhat stringy.

Another off-menu special, the creamy bomba rice with grilled octopus, fared much better. The rice was a bit on the soupy side and not as creamy as the name suggested, the pieces of grilled octopus were excellent - charred, smoky and incredibly tender.

The french toast with berry coulis and vanilla ice cream was a nice way to round off the meal. Still, the "pintxos" were the best things there. The rest of the dishes were passable but nothing that would make me return for more.

A says:

The pintxos are great. So much so that everything else, while very good, still ended up disappointing. My recommendation, just get a set of 5 per person. Then you don't have to share.

96 Tanjong Pagar Road
Tel: 6225-0545
Tues - Sat: 12 noon - 2.30pm; 6 pm - 11 pm

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Our trip to New York 2013

C says:

New York definitely has its fair share of high-end dining, but we found that some of the best meals we had were actually at the most no-frills, understated places - establishments that do things simply, but do them right.

Baked by Melissa

Both of us are generally not cupcake fans, so the huge cupcakes with mounds of frosting at places like Magnolia Bakery held absolutely no appeal for us at all. But W told us that she'd disown us if we didn't give Baked by Melissa a try. They do the most adorable little cupcakes - bite-sized and filled.

Each one is about the diameter of a 50-cent coin, and about 3 cm in height. And each one is a single bite of pure joy. The proportion of cake to filling to frosting is just perfect, the cake itself is light and moist, and the flavour combinations are, for the most part, delightful. PB&J, Reeses, French Toast, Chocolate Chip Pancake, and the best one - Double Chocolate Fudge.

Russ & Daughters

This old-school deli in the East Village, complete with grumpy old salesmen, is a shrine to all kinds of smoked and cured fish. A thought he'd died and gone to heaven when he saw the array of smoked salmon available.

On our first visit here, we each had a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel. It was good, but not inordinately so. We then decided to get takeout of just slices of different types of smoked salmon, and some caviar cream cheese to go with it.

That meal we had was one of the best of the trip. Savouring the fish on its own, interspersed with mouthfuls of plain dinner rolls with cream cheese, really allowed the distinct flavours and textures of the different types of salmon to come through. The caviar cream cheese was insanely good too.

Russ & Daughters is an institution, and is a heartwarming example of how people have been doing the same thing, and doing it with pride, for almost a hundred years (they celebrate their centenary in 2014).

Momofuku Noodle Bar

Having read the Momofuku cookbook and all the issues of Lucky Peach to-date, I'm a 'fan-from-afar' of David Chang, so a pilgrimmage to at least one of his joints was a definite must. We actually planned to go to both Noodle Bar and Ssam Bar on the same day, but our eyes were definitely larger than our stomachs. We couldn't even finish what we ordered at Noodle Bar...

The smoked chicken wings were good, but once the ramen arrived, I knew we had to doggy bag the rest of the wings. We only had one bowl between us but it was still a LOT. The broth was a bacon dashi, unlike any ramen broth that we're used to. The noodles were ok, but the accompaniments - the egg, the pork shoulder and especially the pork belly, were outstanding. Made me wish we'd ordered the pork buns instead of the wings. Next time. 

Crif Dogs

No holiday is complete without doing some form of an Anthony Bourdain trail. On his Layover: New York episode, he met up with David Chang at Crif Dogs for some funky flavoured hot dogs.

Their hot dogs are wrapped in bacon then deep fried. A had one with cream cheese and bagel spices, and mine had melted cheese and a fried egg. They were good, but I think I prefer the one I had at Chelsea Market (see below).

A nondescript phonebooth door in Crif Dogs also opens the way to a "secret" speakeasy called PDT (Please Don't Tell), where they do hot dog flavours created by famous chefs like David Chang and Wylie Dufresne. Maybe those would have been better.

M Wells Dinette

Prior to its current home at MOMA PS1 on Long Island, M Wells Dinette was known as M Wells Diner, a popular eatery featured in many food shows (such as, No Reservations...). The M Wells chef used to be from Montreal restaurant Au Pied de Cochon, hence the unapologetically in-your-face, offal-laden nature of the dishes that are synonymous with Au Pied de Cochon.

The original M Wells Diner closed down after a rent dispute that couldn't be resolved, and the story goes that MOMA invited them to re-establish themselves at PS1. As evidenced by the name, at the Dinette the menu is slightly more pared down and seasonal, but no less over-the-top.

The veal brain escalopes with lemon and capers were phenomenal. The brains were lightly floured and fried, with a creamy centre and a slightly crisp exterior. They were rich, creamy and reminescent of oysters, funnily enough. The lemon and capers cut through the richness perfectly. Even non-offal eater A was blown away. The beef tartare was superb as well, with the beef seasoned with just enough tartness, and still retaining some bite and texture.

A may beg to differ, but even if there are currently no exhibits at the PS1, I think it's well worth a trip just for the food.

Chelsea Market

In terms of fresh produce, Chelsea Market may not be as impressive as, say, Borough Market or the Boqueria, but I still love the vibe of Chelsea Market. They have an event hall with constantly changing independent purveyors, a really cool bookstore, and Ronnybrook Ice Cream, where you can get ice cream, milk shakes and yogurt.

My favourite stall by far is Dickson's Farmstead Meats. They're primarily a purveyor of artisanal meats, and they take pride in only selling meats sourced from local farms that practice humane farming techniques, without the use of feed-lots, hormones or antibiotics. Another prerequisite is that the entire supply chain (farm to slaughterhouse to point-of-sale) must be no more than 400 miles long. Respect.

I had a beef hot dog with kimchi and Kewpie mayonnaise that was truly divine. The sausage had a great 'snap', it was intensely but not overly seasoned, and it went perfectly with the creamy mayo and the cool, tart hit of kimchi.

Luke's Lobster

Luke's Lobster at the Plaza Hotel Food Hall was an unexpected delight. The Maine Sampler came with half rolls each of lobster, crab and shrimp - soft fluffy rolls lightly toasted and filled with perfectly cooked lobster, crab meat and shrimp, then drizzled with clarified butter.

The lobster one had the cleanest taste, but A found the crab one more to his liking. We also ordered the clam chowder, which was amazing - intense flavours of clam in every mouthful, this really was my idea of comfort food.


I'd heard so much about Babbo, Mario Batali's famous joint, that I had to try it for myself. Unfortunately, we left feeling rather underwhelmed. I'm not sure whether we simply ordered the wrong things, or just that our expectations were too high, but we really didn't feel that anything was particularly outstanding.

We ordered from most sections of the menu - a few starters, two pastas and a main course. Everything was executed well, but without much finesse. Perhaps we just ordered the wrong things?

Service wasn't great either. We had a reservation but were made to wait at the bar and when we were finally ushered to our seat, it was a tiny table right at the back of the restaurant, leading to the kitchen and washrooms. The waiter was civil but not exactly warm, till we paid and left the tip, but it's a bit too late for effusiveness by then.

Minetta Tavern

Getting a half decent dinner reservation at Minetta Tavern (i.e. a timing other than 5 pm or 10 pm) is apparently almost impossible if you're not a regular/celebrity, so we decided to do Sunday brunch instead.

So much has been said about Minetta Tavern's legendary Black Label Burger that we inevitably had high hopes. So did it change my life? Unfortunately I think expectations were just way too high. Yes, the patty (made from a proprietary blend of dry aged beef) was pretty flavourful, but not orgasmically so.

While we were there, we felt that the burger at Morton's Bar back home was on par, but we've since been back to Morton's after our trip just to make a comparison, and even that seemed to fall a bit flat. The beef patty itself was lacklustre. Maybe it's just harder and harder these days to get really flavourful beef.

Shake Shack

I think expectations unfortunately play quite a big role in food experiences, because quite contrary to Minetta Tavern, I had almost no preconceived notions of the Shake Shack burger. So when I bit into my first ShackBurger, I did in fact have an OMG moment. The proportion of bun, patty, lettuce and tomato was simply perfect, and the patty itself was grilled on a flat top so it had a wonderfully seared exterior.

On our second trip to Shake Shack, we were greedy and decided to have the Double ShackBurger, assuming that two patties would make for an even beefier experience. That it was, but oddly enough we found that that was too much meat, and it threw the otherwise perfect combination of ingredients out of balance. Stick to the original ShackBurger. It's a classic for a reason.

Brooklyn Fare

We’ve saved the best for last, at least sort of. Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare is an unconventional 3-Michelin Star restaurant located in a pseudo-makeshift kitchen adjacent to the grocery store with the same name. Actually, the very fact that it isn't a super-fussy fine-dining establishment is what drew us to it. Chef Cesar Ramirez is a wizard with seafood – his ability to cook (or not cook, as the case may be) seafood, especially fish, and pair it perfectly with complementary flavours, is nothing short of amazing.

Rewind a couple of months though. Brooklyn Fare is as well-known for its cuisine as it is for its notoriously hard-to-get reservations. Reservations for its 18 seats can only be made by phone, and are taken on Mondays, six weeks in advance. Having heard/read that reservations are well nigh impossible, I had a huge sense of achievement when, after redialing the number over 200 hundred times over the period of about an hour, I finally got through to someone and snagged a reservation.

They’re a bit Nazi, in the sense that they don’t allow photos of the food, nor even the dining room or kitchen. You can’t even use your mobile phone or take notes of the dishes. I think they want you to treat the meal as an experience, rather than reduce it to a blog post or a cold/clinical list of dishes. All we can rely on is a vague memory of what we had, but I can’t deny that the actual experience was unforgettable.

The kitchen and front-of-house run like a well-oiled machine. At least 3 chefs meticulously plate each ingredient in every dish. There are over 20 small courses in the tasting menu, and each course has probably an average of 10 components. Remarkably, all of those ingredients seem to play a part in the dish, and in perfect proportions. Even seeing them lay out the plates, clear them away and re-stack them for the next seating, was mesmerizing in how seamless and choreographed it was.

The food itself was amazing. The Hokkaido uni on a disc of brioche with a slice of black truffle was sublime. Other notable dishes included an intensely flavourful bite of salmon with ikura, various slices of perfect sashimi or just barely cooked fish, a seafood broth with perfectly cooked scallops and abalone, and the sole meat course of the evening – a wonderfully seared rare duck breast.

Being our first and only 3-Michelin star experience, it was definitely memorable but was it the best meal we’ve ever had? I don’t think so. The palaver of getting the reservation, and the prohibitively steep prices, unfortunately do play a part in coming to that conclusion.

A says:

So much good food it's crazy. The big surprise was that the most expensive places aren't necessarily the best. So in a nutshell:
Best meal under $10: Shake Shack
Best place for foodies: Chelsea Market
Best place for me: Russ & Daughters (smoked salmon!!!)
Best bite: Crab roll at Luke's Lobster
Biggest surprise: Baked by Melissa
Most offal-ly interesting menu: M Wells Dinette
Most overrated: Tie between Babbo and Minetta Tavern

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Our trip to Vegas 2013

C says:

If you were wondering why we were more quiet than usual around late April/early May, it's because we were on vacation. We spent a week each in Las Vegas and New York - taking giant leaps, renewing old promises, and basically just eating our way through both cities.

Las Vegas certainly has no shortage of good food. Almost every "celebrity" chef worth his/her salt has set up an outpost here, and given the city's reputation as a laid-back party town, it's somewhat less intimidating to dine at even the fancy restaurants here. Almost everyone's a tourist, and there are no "locals" who sniff at you disdainfully for intruding on their turf.

Since our last visit here, the CityCenter complex, including the Cosmopolitan and Aria resort casinos, has sprouted up, bringing with it a plethora of new, and in some cases pretty damn good, dining options. In fact, some of our best meals in Vegas were at these joints.

Jean Philippe Patisserie

There are 2 JP Patisseries in Vegas - the flagship store with the huge chocolate fountain is at the Bellagio, and a more understated second one at the Aria. The latter was a godsend for us. Our hotel room wasn't inclusive of breakfast, so it was extremely convenient to pop downstairs for coffee and a croissant to start the day.

The espresso-based coffees were good; the cafe au lait was decidedly not. But the croissants were legendary. Light as air, fragrant with butter and with a crisp glazed crust, they really put the Tiong Bahru Bakery ones to shame.

Julian Serrano

Given our love for tapas-like small bites, it's no wonder that we fell in love with Julian Serrano's eponymous restaurant, also located in the Aria (his other more fine-dining restaurant, Picasso, is at the Bellagio). Offering updated takes on traditional tapas, as well as modern creations, some of our best bites were here. In fact, we liked it so much we came here twice.

Some outstanding dishes were:

- A's favourite, a lobster gazpacho that was refreshingly cold, tart and had a generous helping of tender lobster meat

- A fabulous wild mushroom risotto

- Iberico pork shoulder slices that were meltingly tender

- Yellowtail crudo wrapped around julienned sweet potato crisps with ponzu and horseradish cream

- Simple but absolutely delicious grilled asparagus with romesco sauce

Also, out of the many places where I asked for hot water during our trip, this is the only place that served it with lemon and a tiny jar of honey. Love it.


Given that dining at the original Masa in New York is way out of our budget, we figured his more casual BarMASA, again at the Aria, was a more affordable way for us to sample his creations.

We shared a sushi platter, as well as some less traditional dishes that the restaurant is apparently known for. For the most part, the sushi was very good, athough A found the salmon nigiri very lacklustre. The otoro sushi was a bite of absolute heaven - I dare say even better than the ones we had in the restaurants around Tsukiji. Also, the wasabi here is mellow and fragrant rather than up-your-noise spicy - apparently a proprietary blend of Chef Masa's, including fresh wasabi and miso.

We had a really good kanpachi jalapeno with fried potato julienne, with the jalapeno adding just a hint of heat to keep things interesting. We also had another ceviche - with amaebi and scallops - that really brought out of the sweetness of both the shrimp and the scallops.

China Poblano

Jose Andres' restaurants all but dominate the Cosmopolitan. We went to China Poblano, a quirky joint that serves both Chinese and Mexican food. Highlights at China Poblano were definitely their tacos. If tacos in Singapore were remotely like these, rather than the Tex-Mex versions that are prevalent here, I'm pretty sure I'll have a different view of Mexican food.

The corn tortillas were really cute and small - only about 5 inches in diameter, and were filled with interesting yet perfectly balanced ingredients. Think duck tongues with lychee, and beef tongue with salsa. By far the best though, was the Viva China taco -sliced beef tendons topped with a kumamoto oyster. Surf and turf at its best.

At the recommendation of our waiter, we also tried their signature dish, the Twenty-Vegetable Fried Rice. This was a lot better than expected, with the various different vegetables adding a myriad of tastes and textures to perfectly seasoned and very well-cooked rice.

We belatedly discovered Jaleo, his more traditional Spanish restaurant, only on the day we left, so we didn't get a chance to visit. Next time!

Fleur by Hubert Keller

We're a big fan of Hubert Keller, both from his stint on Top Chef Masters and our visit to Burger Bar on our last trip, so when we found out that he'd opened a small plates concept called Fleur in Mandalay Bay, it was definitely on our to-go list.

Unfortunately, in comparison to the other awesome things we had at Julian Serrano, BarMASA and even China Poblano, Fleur fell somewhat short. Everything was ok, but nothing was memorable. In fact, I'm already struggling to remember what we had. The only thing that stood out was the chocolate souffle dessert, which was wonderfully done but perhaps drowned in a bit too much cherry sauce.

Serendipity 3

Of course, we had to do our pilgrimmage to Serendipity 3 at Caesar's Palace. Their Frrrozen Hot Chocolate did not disappoint - rich, creamy, chocolately and with no traces of icy bits.

China Pantry

For me, no trip to the US is complete without at least one perfunctory food court Chinese meal. I actually had a few, and the one at China Pantry at the Premium Outlets North food court came out tops. I had the beef with broccoli and chicken with mushroom, and both were tender, tasty and the vegetables were still crisp and crunchy.

Also, my tips to ensuring that these are edible and remotely healthy are: (a) steer clear of any deep fried/neon-coloured meats; and (b) always ask for white rice instead of the default options of fried rice or chow mein. If you don't see it, ask for it. They'll always have a steamer of white rice on standby.

A says:

If you like modern tapas, I highly recommend Julian Serrano.
If you want something more casual, though not necessarily cheap, China Poblano has interesting Mexican/Chinese dishes.
If you can afford it and like japanese, try Bar Masa.
And if you're hungry and like chocolate, go for the gigantic sandwiches and frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity.