Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Dong! Dong! Dong! 1, 2, 3. Suntec City Level 3.

It's no secret that we Singaporeans love Japanese food. Maybe it's because Jap food is seen as trendy. Or because it's promoted as healthy. Or because we just simply like the way it's beautifully plated and presented. Whatever the reason, there is no denying that we love our sushi, sashimi, tempura, udon, teriyaki, yakitori, miso...

Those who want to combine their love for Japanese food and buffets should really try Kuishin-Bo. It's my favourite Japanese buffet restaurant and I like the fact that the buffet items are fresh, tasty and have a certain standard. Of course, don't compare it to high-end Japanese restaurants. But it certainly is a notch above more common family Japanese restaurants found in most shopping malls.

The spread is good and everyone can find something that he likes. While I'm certainly not going to ramble off the whole list of goodies offered at the buffet, I'll post about certain highlights and this should give a fairly good representation of what to expect there.

There is a teppanyaki counter offering salmon, dory, beef and chicken. Take your pick, clip the small number clip provided to the plate and return to your seat. Once teppanyaki-ed, your food will be brought to your table. I like the beef. It wasn't scrawny scraps of dead cow. What they offered were cubes of ribeye. Once cooked, they were juicy, tender and beefy. The salmon was also nice and the dory fillet, unlike many fishy versions out there, was fresh. But I found the chicken pieces too fatty for my liking.

Kaminabe is available here and seems to be a favourite among many. The Japanese paper steamboat comes in a choice of seafood, beef and chicken. I asked for the beef option and was so satisfied with it. Feeling that the beef slices were insufficient, I later skipped to the teppanyaki counter and grabbed more of that glorious ribeye cubes. And to the steamboat, I added them. The soup base was miso and became fiercely beefy as the soup boiled over time, fuelled by the solid fuel that seemed to last forever.

The sashimi, sushi and seafood sections were side-by-side. For sashimi, there was salmon, tuna and snapper. Perhaps I'm biased but I found the salmon sashimi the best. The tuna and snapper were fresh and firm but nothing beats the smooth, oily texture and slight sweetness of salmon. The sushi available ranged from basic cucumber, pickles to popular salmon, egg, prawns, tuna and... I can't remember all of them. I should hightlight the tuna belly battleship. Yes, that's what Kuishinbo named it. Fatty pieces of tuna belly were minced and set on rice, wrapped round with seaweed to complete the sushi. I haven't had this before and so felt it was rather unique. From the seafood section, I fed most on the crayfish (Alaskan crabs are available for dinner). They were of average size but their flesh was fresh, firm and sweet. The ever popular edamame was also part of the buffet spread. (Refer to picture at the start of this post.)

For hot food, I ate shishamo (the delicious pregnated fish), tempura prawns, softshell crabs and veggie, yakitori and tonkatsu. The grilled squid was especially good. A small whole squid skewered on a wooden stick and grilled lightly. The basting sauce was salty and savoury. Yum! The tempura prawns and veggie (sweet potato slices and lady's finger) were good. No disgusting rancid oil aftertaste or soggy batter. The softshell crab was too oily for me but luckily I had a cup of chawanmushi (Japanese steamed egg custard) which instantly made me feel much better.

This is actually beef udon in a very small claypot although it looks deceptively like a regular claypot in this picture. The last-minute splash of egg white made this look messy and hardly appealing. But they actually tasted quite good. And the tiny portion comes in handy for those who want to eat a wide variety but get filled up fast.

For desserts, the green tea ice cream is a must eat! It's more like softserve (aka 7eleven's Mr Softie type). It melts fast so be quick to spoon, lick and swallow before it melts into a pool of green cream. Smooth, not too sweet and with the clean, refreshing green tea flavour showing, this is a great way to cool down after all the teppanyaki and tempura.

Be creative and do what I did by adding the green tea ice cream into a glass of Sprite and ta-da. Green tea float.

Mochi is also available at the dessert counter. These soft and chewy glutinous rice balls give the selection more variety and are more interesting than the chocolate fountain (yes, they do have one). For those who cannot get enough of green tea, there is also the rather unique green tea cheesecake.

Kuishin-Bo is one of those buffets that has left me satisfied and wanting to come back for another round. The price may be a little steep for a non-hotel buffet but considering the quality and variety of food served, I think it is well worth it.

Adult Lunch
Mon-Fri: $23.80++
Sat, Sun & Public Holidays: $25.80++

Adult Dinner
Sun-Thur: $31.80++
Fri, Sat, Public Holiday Eve & Public Holiday: $39.80++

Suntec City Tower 1
Tel: 62387088

Chew On This: Worried about the GST increase? Let Kuishin-Bo soothe your worry as they'll be asborbing GST for those who dine from Mondays to Thursdays. Currently, civil servants will only have to pay $28.20++ (4 pax & above) or $26.80++ (10 pax & above) for dinner on Tuesdays. And the Ladies will smile about Wednesday dinners as it's Lady's Night and they'll be charged $25.80++. So come and eat before the promotion ends.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas!

To all my readers out there, Merry Christmas! It's the time of the year again when we do Christmas shopping (yes, it's another great excuse), when turkey is suddenly the most popular bird and when friends and family wine and dine together.

Of course, like all celebrations, Christmas brings along some foods for the festive season. Roast beef, turkey, baked ham, Christmas pudding, gingerbread cookies...ah the joys of Christmas. But more importantly, the reason for the season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ into this earth. That's precisely why there is a 'Christ' in 'Christmas'.

Chew On This: Whatever you may be going through, Jesus be your light and answer. The Hungry Cow prays that Jesus blesses you with divine health, joy and love this Christmas!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Pontian Noodles

I had originally wanted to get my fix for the famous mee soto but because of the long queue and my hungry stomach, I decided to grab a bowl of Pontian Wanton Mee ($3). It was my first time trying Pontian Wanton Mee and so was understandably curious about it.

The bowl of noodles looked normal. While the char siew was scrawny and the wantons forgettable, the noodles were pretty good. Springy in texture and neither soggy or floury, I enjoyed it (doesn't matter if it's homemade or not). I paid a dollar or so more for extra fried wantons. These were not exactly good. The skin was thick and had flour remnants inside. If I should go back, it'll be definitely for the noodles.

Quan Ji Cooked Food Stall
Bedok Interchange Food Centre

Chew On This: This stall claims that it has 60 years of history and claims that their handmade noodles won't turn soft even when tau pau-ed (take-away).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Healthy Comforting Warmth

Christmas is just around the corner and the crazy heavy downpour isn't what most would hope for. Snow, I'm sure, would be a different thing. But why not make the best out of the rain. Certain foods are best eaten on a cold, rainy day. Steamboat and porridge comes to mind.

Feeling that I should eat something healthy after all the sinful makaning the past few days, I decided on Alishan Taiwanese Porridge. It's like Teochew Muay where you order the dishes you see on display and eat them with porridge. Although plain porridge was available, I opted for the sweet potato porridge. I would also urge you to do the same. The long grains were soft without being super mushy and there was a nice fragrance of rice. The small bits of sweet potato also added a slight sweetness to the otherwise plain porridge.

As for the dishes, I tried the braised duck ($7), otah ($5), chai poh omelette ($6), sotong with chili sauce ($4)and stir-fried long beans ($3). These were for three persons. The braised duck tasted pleasantly gamy but one too many pieces and your jaws will have a good workout. The otah did not come wrapped in a leaf but rather was a huge slab of otah on a plate. I found it too rich in coconut for my liking. And I wish there were chunks of fish in it.

The chai poh (preserved radish bits) omelette was well executed. The omelette was thick and fluffy, with crispy edges. The chai poh was salty but it went well with the porridge. I have to admit that it was oily but it's only through a very hot wok and overly sufficient oil that the omelette can achieve this standard.

The sotong (squid) with chili sauce was a little cold and squid being bland by itself, needed the Thai chili sauce to prep it up. If you are into Thai-styled chili sauce which tastes of a mix of spicy, sour and infused with lemongrass, then this should be fine for you. The stir-fried long beans with minced pork was a tad oily but otherwise was also a good dish to complement the porridge.

So gather the family or a few friends and brave this cold rain for some sweet potato porridge. If you need to eat more (because it's porridge and porridge seems less filling than rice), just go ahead and order a few bowls. He who feels pai seh (embarrassed) goes home hungry. Certainly not me. I finished my seven.

Alishan Taiwanese Porridge
1008 Upper Serangoon Road
Opening hours: 11am - 1am daily

Chew On This: The sweet potato porridge, priced at just 50 cents per person, is free flow and this place opens past midnight, haven't you always been looking for a place which serves simple, good food that is also light on the stomach and wallet?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Cheesecake Ecstasy

Cheesecakes are getting common but a really good cheesecake is hard to come by. My good friends would remember that slightly a year ago, I had a huge, HUGE cheesecake craving. At the end of just three weeks, I had devoured a total of 26 different slices of cheesecakes. It was pretty comprehensive as I stuck my fork into cheesecakes from places like Starbucks, Olio Dome, Coffee Beans & Tea Leaf, Hilton Hotel, Secret Recipe, River Gauche, Cafe Gelare, McCafe, NYDC, The Cheesecake Cafe among others. But few could bring me to seventh heaven.

Back from Indonesia, my mum brought back a cheesecake that simply blew me away. It was from her friend, Lea, the Indonesian home-based baker. With ingredients such as French butter, Madagascar Vanilla Beans and Fleur de Sel, it was a power-packed cheesecake.

The cheesecake was made such that there was a strawberry halve and a blueberry halve, with fresh strawberries and blueberries dotted on each respective halve. (Quite a good idea for those who cannot decide on which flavour to order.) The cheesecake was favourably dense and wonderfully flavoured with the cream cheese and vanilla. It had weight in the mouth yet slid so smoothly down the throat. I love it for being sweet, tart and a wee bit salty at the same time. The vanilla was unlike those artificial essence which when compared to the real pod, seems harsher in taste. It was fragrant and sweet-smelling. Lemon juice which was another ingredient, provided a touch of citrus and helped to cut the richness of the cream cheese. The cookie base was neither brittle and dry or wet and soggy. It was a good balance of crumbly and being just slightly moist.

I had thought of eating just a slice but after the first bite, I gobbled almost half the cake. A cake this good should not be eaten in moderation. Moo!

Lea also bakes Tiramisu, cupcakes and camomile cookies! I bet they all taste good. People who have tried should let me know. Now, I wonder if she does overseas delivery to Singapore...

Cakes & Co

Chew On This: For those who want to know a bit more about pricey gourmet ingredients, Teo Pau Lin and Violet Oon did a comparison between them n their earthly counterparts. Check it out here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Flog Exchange!!

This may seem a little last minute but I actually just got wind of it too. This is a great and fun idea for the festive season.

Sam of Hinata Diaries and Joone of Nibble & Scribble are organizing a Christmas Flog Exchange.

All you have to do to take part is send an e-mail to them at christmasflogexchange@yahoo.com.sg with your name, blog, snail mail address and wish by this Thursday, December 14. We will publish the completed wish list the next day (Friday, December 15), after which you have one week to sign up to fulfil someone else's wish. Needless to say, you only get to make a wish if you're gonna fulfil someone else's in return :)

To keep things fun and friendly, you can wish for anything food-related that's under S$20. It can be something specific (e.g. a box of organic
cherries) or something that requires a bit of creativity on your wish fulfiller's part (e.g. "the best cupcakes you've ever eaten").

Of course, feel free to spread the word on your own blogs and get more people involved! Depending on the response, they will either organize a gift exchange get-together or a simpler blogging-by-mail exchange (hence the request for your snail mail address).

Monday, December 11, 2006

Joo Heng

Joo Chiat is really fascinating. After all, the area is as famous for it's food and peranakan culture as it is notorious for it's massage parlours and dingy budget hotels. Now the area is trying to dump off it's sleazy association. Is it a coincidence that red-light districts happen to also boast some of the best food spots? After all, where there are people, there surely must be food to sustain them right?

One thing I've noticed about the Katong-Joo chiat area is that small Cze Char restaurants are almost always packed especially during dinner. Most of these places look like they have been around for 20 odd years and exude an old-world charm. Joo Heng is one of these places and I popped in for lunch on a weekday.
There were a few tables with office workers tucking into their food. Other than that, the place wasn't really crowded. Good because there was no need to queue or wait for a table or for the food to take ages to arrive. Dinner may be a different scenario though.

Our table of three ordered a Watercress Soup ($6 for small), Prawns with Beancurd ($12), Stir-fried Bittergourd with Pork Ribs ($8) and Hae Zho ($8).

The Watercress Soup tasted really different to me. Neither better or worse. Just different. I was expecting the unmistakable flavours of pork, red dates and watercress to hit me but there was none. After deforestation of the watercress I then realised that what remained at the bottom of the bowl was fried pieces of snakehead fish, and not pork ribs.

The auntie recommended Prawns with Beancurd which she said is one of their signature dishes. And I loved it! There were only three prawns for our table of three, so that works out to one prawn per person unless the other person really loves you or is allergic to prawns. But the prawns were big and had a very crunchy/springy bite. I'm not surprised if they soaked the prawns in lai sui much like many restaurants around. The beancurd was not those round eggy ones. Instead they were more like sliced chunks of beancurd with an egg coating. Delicious.

Stir-fried Bittergourd with Pork Ribs is a commonly found dish but no less popular. While I liked the fact that the bittergourd slices did not have that extremely bitter taste associated with not blanching them in salted boiling water before cooking, I found the pieces of pork ribs too small. Otherwise, the dish would have been better with generous-sized pork ribs drenched in the black bean sauce.

Joo Heng's Hae Zho (think ngoh hiang) was filled with tasty minced prawns, chestnuts and pork. Each piece was fried till crispy and the skin was not too salty. Great when dipped into the sweet sauce that accompanied it or with a dollop of balachan. I would have preferred the filling to be more roughly chopped than finely minced for a better texture.

Talk about balachan, Joo Heng's balachan is one of the best I've tasted in recent history. It was hot and slightly sour, full of the aroma of the dried shrimps.

Come for a good homely meal and forget about the red-light status surrounding this place...Unless that is what you are seeking for in the first place.

Joo Heng Restaurant
360 Joo Chiat Road

Chew On This: When asked if the food they serve are Cantonese or Teochew, the auntie said cham-cham (mixed).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pizza & Pasta by the Waterfront

It was my first time at VivoCity, Singapore's latest and biggest shopping centre. I've heard quite a bit about the dining places there and thought it would be good to see them for myself. I headed to VivoCity with Karen for dinner and thought of surprising Shiming who was there with her friends. But in the end, the surprise backfired when we realised that she had already left for home. So much for a surprise...

I found Vivo's layout confusing. There are only a few floors but the shops are arranged in small loops such that I ended up walking in circles without covering much ground. There are many makan places there and some even have the extra benefit of having a waterfront spot. One such place is Modestos and I was glad I had dinner there.

It was quite obvious that the tables that had a waterfront view were mostly occupied. Who in his right mind would want to sit facing the huge, cold mall? we managed to secure one such table which had a nice view of the tourist boat ferrying people around against the backdrop of the lighted Sentosa bridge and the colourful cable cars that looked like lighted boxes moving up and down an invisble line. Karen seemed rather easy when ordering food. Not wanting to make a choice, she left it up to me. So after finding out a bit of her preferrence, we settled for the Risotto Primavera E Zafferano ($21) and the Pizza Proscuitto Crudo ($21 for a regular).

The Risotto Primavera E Zafferano does not look pretty. Yes, it even looked kinda like puke to a extent. BUT it tasted oh-so-good. Each grain of rice was plump and had absorbed all the goodness of the saffron, butter, cheese and dried porcini mushrooms. It was certainly a good combination of ingredients that provided a heady flavour without being cloyingly rich. The only thing I didn't appreciate were the small cubes of carrots in there. I must say I'm biased against the orange root but chomping on those carrot cubes just brought out a taste I much dislike.

I was happy that the Pizza Proscuitto Crudo was able to get rid of that horrid taste. Modestos has a reputation of churning out great pizzas and this one is one of them. The thin crust was smeared with tomato puree and topped with cheese and parma ham. Simple and elegant. The slightly charred base also added a nice smokey touch to complement the salty parma ham. I took a whiff and detected a faint but distinct olive oil fragrance which indicated that they could have drizzled some over the pizza. Mmm...I could have shouted "Ma Ma Mia!"

And I have to add that service was really good except for the lady (not in uniform) who stood at the entrance and brought us to our table. But I choose not to let one person spoil the night of otherwise great service.

Tel: 63769808

Chew On This: UOB card-holders get a 1-for-1 promotion on pizzas and pastas. I certainly enjoyed this promotion and hope that you will too.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Work in Progress

I've upgraded to Blogger Beta version and I'm changing the layout a bit. Please bear with me as I tweak and experiment around. I've also included links to the food blogs that I read quite regularly so ya, do check them out. A Google search box has been added so that you, the reader, can search for a particular food, location or word in this blog. This can be quite helpful when looking for a specific post/article that was published some time ago. If you need to find something in Google, just use the same box and Google it!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fry Me Not

Ampang Yong Tau Foo created quite a stir a couple of years back and Singaporeans who take to this style of Yong Tau Foo, in which all the items are deep-fried, swear that the deep-frying makes the food more pang (fragrant).

I can see the Health Promotion Board people shaking their heads in unison. This is one stall that certainly won't get their stamp, or pyramid in this case, of approval. Although I've got to agree to the saying that 'everything fried tends to taste good', I feel that there are some food in life that are not meant to be fried or at least not everything fried. Yong Tau Foo is one such food.

The place is set along the long stretch of road that starts from East Coast Road to Upper East Coast Road, passing through Siglap and Katong. This stretch is my favourite foodie road as there are countless grazing grounds for me. Vietnamese, Local, Thai, British, Italian, Japanese, German, Indian etc food can all be found here. With cafes, bars, kopitiams, restaurants, bakeries, coffee houses and specialty shops all littering this road, it is one of the gems that make the East stand out.

Okay so back to the Ampang Yong Tau Foo. The place is simple and kopitiam-like. For those who haven't been here before, the sequence is you walk right in to the Yong Tau Foo counter, grab whatever pieces of food you want (each costs 60 cents), pass it to the auntie and smile.

The Yong Tau Foo here is standard in the sense that there isn't a choice of having it in soup or dry, with kway tiao or bee hoon. All picked items are deep-fried served with a sauce and accompanied by a bowl of chor bee hoon. The selection of Yong Tau Foo was quite good. There were stuffed tau pok, tau foo, red and green chilies, brinjal, yam, fishballs, fried wanton, ngoh hiang and the works. I was quite shocked to see that they even deep-fried the bittergourd! Only the xiao bai cai was spared. Thank you for sparing the poor leafy green. The pieces of deep-fried Yong Tau Foo were oily as expected but at least the oil didn't have that rancid taste.

While I found the Yong Tau Foo so-so, I seemed to enjoy the bowl of chor bee hoon more. The thick strands were smooth and springy, delightful to each bite. A light broth with minced chicken gently flavoured the chor bee hoon. A bowl of this made a simple and light breakfast. In fact, I went for another.

Fu Lin Ampang Yong Tau Foo
721 East Coast Road

Chew On This: This place is not certified Halal but it does not serve pork. Good to know for those piggy-friendly folks.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Last Paper Day

The 1st of December marks the end of exams and the beginning of the much awaited holidays. It also called for the League to gather once more for more causal banter and even more nonsensical theories that seem to spring out of nowhere as we do a bit of catching-up. Potential Nobel laureates and in some cases terrorists...hmm.

After KTV at Smith Street, we strolled around Chinatown before meeting up with Ewan. We had actually wanted to check out the Viennese coffee place on Neil Road but had apparently walked the opposite direction...Which led us to settle at Qun Zhong Eating House. Ewan had previously eaten here and said the food was pretty good. And in we went.

The place was small and packed. Thank God we had arrived after the dinner crowd otherwise I could just imagine the queue outside. For a place that does not bother to decorate or have some sort of interior design and still being so packed, I thought the food must be good. Ewan placed the orders and we ended up having a mini noodle degustation for seven people. A far cry from the time he had ordered two $18 claypot rice from the famed Chinatown stall which left the stall uncle and the people around us slightly stunned if not amused.

The menu was small and offered a few noodle and dumpling dishes. The Zha Jiang Mian ($4) was a bowl of noodles drenched in a pork-based sauce. While the noodles were okay, the sauce didn't really impress me much. It lacked fragrance and depth.

The Suan La Mian ($5) or Noodles in Sour & Spicy Soup was also disappointing. To be fair, I never was a fan of Sour & Spicy Soup. And this version didn't win me over. The thick gooey soup was not spicy. Only a trickle of chili oil gave a spicy illusion. Perhaps Jessica Alba can do a better job. ;)

The last noodle dish was Noodles in Preserved Vegetables & Pork Broth ($4). This fared better than the Suan La Mian. The soup was tasty with influences from the preserved vegetables and the strips of pork.

When noodles failed that night, I looked towards the dumplings. The Guo Tie ($7) or what the Americans call 'Potstickers', turned out to be the knight in shinning armour. Instead of the common ones where by the filling is fully enveloped in the skin, these were semi wrapped, displaying the meat filling. The way they executed this here was exactly the way I like Guo Tie to be. Pan-fried so that the base of the dumplings would have a crisp, golden brown tan and with the addition of some stock into the pan and covering it, the steam created would penetrate through the Guo Tie, cooking its insides. The filling of pork and Ku Cai was savoury and the Ku Cai did not have that overpowering smell that I dislike. Yummy. Very Yummy.

A quite similar tasting and rather weirdly-named Chinese Pizza ($9) was probably their take on Chong You Bing (a fried crispy onion 'pancake'). I would have preferred something less soggy and more crispy. The one I had in Taiwan was the equivalent of our Jalan Kayu Roti Prata. Think crispy and well-fried with fragrant onions embedded within the dough.

Xiao Long Bao ($7) = Little Dragon Dumpling?? Well, literally translated that is. I found the skin of the Xiao Long Bao too soft, without the slightly chewy texture which probably explained why they broke easily. Or according to 'experienced hand' Ewan, we simply didn't use the correct technique. The meat filling was all too soft, almost melting away in my mouth. But I would have preferred a bit of resistance and bite. Personally, not good compared to many others around.

For dessert, we shared a Dou Sha Jian Bing ($9). The middle layer of sweet red bean paste was sandwiched between two outer layers that were nicely browned on the outside while retaining a chewy glutinous inner surface. At this price, one could probably buy two bowls of their noodles but I doubt one would be able to get the same satisfaction that this dessert brought.

Qun Zhong Eating House
21 Neil Road
Singapore 088814
Tel: 62213060
Opening hours: 11.30am-3pm, 5.30pm-9.30pm
Closed on every Wednesday.

Chew On This: This place has its own Japanese and Korean clientele! My guess is the Sake bar next door could be a reason.

PS: The photos were taken using my camera phone (which I will blog about soon) as my digital camera is with my Sis who is in Israel right now.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

No Signboard, No Problem.

They say a name is as important for a person just as a signage is important for a shop. I couldn't agree more but the folks at No Signboard simply took it the other way. Their legend has it that a grandmother worked the wok as a street hawker years ago without a signboard. Her food was so popular that the lack of a signage literally became her identity, her trademark.

Since then the place is just known as No Signboard. Popular for it's seafood, I brought my crab-loving granny there. I haven't seen her and grandpa in a long while and thought a Sunday lunch after church with them would be nice.

We ordered White Pepper Crabs, Boiled Live Prawns, Luo Han Zai and Ginger & Onion Frog. While I'm not a super-dooper big-time fan of seafood or like shellfish, I do enjoy certain types and dishes especially steamed pomfret, squid and lobsters. Selective seafood fan I am. On the few occasions that I've been to No Signboard, it was all because my dining companions liked seafood. I still say "Bring me the steak!"

The White Pepper Crab ($43 for one crab) was big and meaty. I like the fragrance from the ground pepper, giving the dish a peppery lift. I envy people who can really manoeuvre their way through the shells of this crustacean to extract every gram of meat. I can't, or maybe it's just the lazy eater in me. Fiddling and breaking and peeling and extracting crabs and prawns just seemed too much work for a sliver of flesh. Oh and I suspect that black pepper was involved too. Ah well, another example of what you see on the menu is not exactly what you get. Not too bad nonetheless.

Considered exotic to Ang Mohs who are known to film the killing of these bullfrogs in Chinatown much to the dismay of the frog-sellers, frog is common to the Chinese here. No Signboard's Ginger & Onion Frogs are notable with the spring onions and ginger slices perfuming the pieces of frogs. Like almost everything 'exotic', it does taste relatively like chicken.

The Boiled Live Prawns ($30 for 600g) were good. It's one of the few prawn dishes that I like. The sweetness of the fresh prawns are brought out without sophisticated sauces and strong flames. Perhaps my Cantonese roots have a part in me liking food that is not too heavy on seasoning but instead stresses on the freshness of the ingredients.

The Luo Han Zai ($12 for medium) was a medley of mushrooms and fried gluten. It was stir-fried in a tasty brown sauce that I enjoyed with my bowl of rice. A good respite from the seafood.

I have to admit that I was rather happy with lunch that day. The thing I that don't know is if it's because of the food or seeing my grandparents. Or just both.

No Signboard
Esplanade (with branches in Geylang, East Coast and Kallang.)
Tel: 63369959

Chew On This: Unlike most Chinese restaurants, No Signboard @ Esplanade doesn't close in the afternoon so if you are by the river and the Merlion is not your idea of seafood, you know where you can turn to.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Über Expectations

First there was the metrosexual. Then the ubersexual. It's no surprise that even burgers are being sized-up these days. Überburger, touted as a gourmet burger place and opened by the people behind Corduroy & Finch, has drawn mixed reviews. Probably the most outstanding fact is that the most expensive burger here cost $101. Yes, one hundred and one dollars for a burger with decadent fillings such as wagyu beef, truffle sauce, foie gras and champagne dressing.

When most of us Singaporeans are used to $5, ok maybe now $7+ burger meals at fast food places, forking out $101 for one unit of burger seems like an indication that one has struck lottery and also probably Alzheimer’s. Luckily for us common sane folks, there are other much 'down-to-earth'-costing burgers here. The cheapest is a chicken burger at $9 and many other can be had for below $30.

The first time I visited Überburger a few months after they had opened, I was not particularly drawn to come back. Today was the second chance I gave it, to prove it's über-ness. And by the way, über in German means superior, over the top.

Dinner at Überburger was on a Saturday night. The place looked the same as I had remembered from my first visit. Large glass windows allowed outsiders to the view of the bold red and black themed walls and floors within. Four or five plasma TVs screening soccer matches and MTV concerts hung from above. A distinct air of superiority was definitely in the air. Snooty, some may say. The waiters were smartly dressed in black and the menu was in a long, rectangular form. It certainly took a while to get used to how the price of each item was displayed. For example, thirty2$ actually means $32. I found it confusing at first but was amused later at the rather interesting concept.

First up, the Ubmonster ($29). The insides consisted of a 250g of chopped sirloin topped with emmenthaler cheese, hickory smoked bacon, tomato and onions. The Ubmonster came with a bucket of fries and a salad. Ordered for the beef to be done medium, I still found the meat dry. It was a big burger but I didn’t find the taste big. The fries were really nice though. Thickly-cut and salted, it was crisp outside and soft fluffy within.

I ordered the Blue Tiger Prawns burger ($22) out of curosity. I haven’t had a prawn burger and was interested in how it would turn out. The menu stated that chopped prawns were mixed with ginger, chili, chives, sea salt and pepper. Well, I didn’t detect much ginger or chili or sea salt or pepper. The prawn patty tasted fresh albeit being bland. I had to ask for mustard to prep up the burger. I couldn’t help but compare the prawn patty to fishcake and even some dim sum filling.

Next was the Wagyu-stlyed Buger ($32). Supposedly 'wagyu fats mixed with normal sirloin to create a juicy patty that would resemble a wagyu patty', I wasn’t impressed with it. I ordered this one done medium-rare and found the beef too chewy, partly also because of bits of tough chewy tendon and fat fibers. How ironic. What I did like was the rocket salad that accompanied this burger. The rocket salad was dressed in a light vinaigrette and I was happy to find pine seeds sprinkled on top of the leaves.

The Tuna Steak Burger ($25), touted as a larger version of a Corduroy & Finch bestseller, also sounded interesting. Two-inch yellowfin tuna steaks done rare, smothered in wasabi cream and sandwiched with tomato and cucumber slices between sesame buns. I had made a mistake by informing the waiter to hold this burger in the kitchen as there was only three of us and I didn’t want the burger to get cold. This resulted in the tuna steaks being overly done. So instead of the slightly cooked outsides and the reddish raw inside, the tuna was cooked through and tasted dry. A pity as I thought the wasabi cream would have paired with it very well. The wasabi cream was luxuriously smooth and had a nice, non-overpowering, kick to it.

On the whole, I felt that the dinner that night was a hit-and-miss affair. Simple things like a warm juicy meat patty and toasted buns are important but Überburger seemed to have fumbled with the basics amidst the aim for burger nobility. In fact, I think I enjoyed the sides like fries and salad more than the burgers.

Despite the many unfavourable reviews and comments on online forums regarding Überburger's service or rather lack thereof, I found service that night acceptable. The waiters were attentive and helped with the explanation of what the menu had to offer. They also asked if we had a UOB card as there was a promotion for cardholders. I like places that inform customers about such deals instead of keeping mum and hoping that customers will not know and so pay the non-promotional price. Water was constantly topped-up and no, they did not charge for it. While not great, service was difinitely better than that stated in forums.

Prices can be generally expensive but yet not without reasoning. They use quality ingredients such as yellowfin tuna steaks, rocket, pine nuts, grain-fed beef plus the fact that everything they use is organic. These do not certainly come cheap. It’s good quality ingredients but I pity the way that they are treated to produce each burger that struggles to achieve über expectations. For a place with German Ralf Spika, with no less than two Michelin stars to his name, as the executive chef, I think for the night I was there he certainly wasn’t. Or maybe Paris Hilton is right. The stars are blind.

Oh Überburger, if only I had left über satisfied.

# 01-06 to 10
Millenia Walk
Tel: 6837 0280

Chew On This: Use your UOB card at Überburger and get 1-for-1 deals for their burgers (Except their 101 burger. Don't even think about it!) and beers (5-10pm). Promotion ends 30th November 2006.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Eat the Korean Wave

I never really got into the whole Korean drama thing except for Da Chang Jin. But thousands out there feed on Korean dramas released each season and fuelled by the Korean invasion, anything stamped 'Korean' seems to be in demand. Even pseudo-Korean Seoul Garden unashamedly benefited. Move aside Hong Kong serials, Bollywood movies, Japanese shows and Hollywood stuff, Korean dramas currently reign supreme. Just ask my next-door neighbour whose world will come to a standstill at a particular time every day.

It's quite funny that I didn't fancy Korean food until I had lunch at a Korean restaurant in the US, of all places. Brought there by a Taiwanese friend towards the end of my attachment program at Cornell, I fell in love with kimchi, stir-fried sweetish beef and Korean rice cake. It was a humble place with a homely feeling, nothing fancy. But the food I had there still resides fondly in my memory, erasing the nasty experience I had with kimchi and egg rolls onboard Asiana Airlines years ago.

And so I, together with a party of five, decided on trying Se Ra Bel Korean Restaurant in the Furama hotel after hearing it was pretty good. One thing I realised about Korean dining places is that they tend to be less dress-ed up (the place, not waitress mind you) and more relaxed compared to their Japanese counterparts. It was unpretentious comfort.

An array of no less than seven small dishes greeted us as soon as we got seated. These contained mainly bits of vegetables and soy bean products. The nicely-fermented kimchi provided a tangy, sourish note which whet my appetite. It was made in-house with 24 ingredients. Also worth mentioning was the julienned potato and carrots. Crisp and tasty, I could not resist attacking them with my chopsticks.

The Dok Boki Bokum or Korean rice cake ($15) was of a starchy kueh-like consistency. Sliced into slices and stir-fried with cuts of cucumber, carrots and onion in a slightly sweet-spicy sauce. Not as good as I had remembered of the one in the US but still palatable.

The Hae Mul-Jeon Gol ($40 for large) was a steamboat pot of a spicy broth with a chockfull of seafood and vegetables. Look closely and you may see a few pairs of eyes staring back from beneath the broth. Digging into big pot revealed pieces of flower crab, large prawns, clams, squid and fish. The mini ocean also had cabbage and golden mushrooms (enoki to the Japanese) which lent their natural sweetness to the tasty broth. If certainly looks hotter than it really is though still mildly spicy. I ordered a plate of marinated beef ($18) as an addition to the steamboat.

The most outstanding dish I had that afternoon had to be the Dolsot Bibim Bab ($15). Think of it as claypot rice with an unmistakable Korean twist. Served in a very hot stone bowl, the rice is topped with slivers of beef, carrots, onions, mushrooms, green vegetables and big bean sprouts. A fresh egg cracked right in the centre and sesame seeds sprinkled over the ingredients added an aesthetic touch. The idea is then to add the accompanying sauce, mix all the ingredients up with the rice and watch as the raw egg coats each morsel. The result was a tasty pot of rice with the flavours of the beef and the various vegetables melding in harmony, only to be further accentuated by fragrant sesame seeds and the egg itself. Because the stone bowl was so hot, bits of rice and stuff got stuck to the bowl, which imparted a lovely charred aroma to the dish. This dish alone was enough to satisfy my tastebuds.

The name Se Ra Bel means 'heavenly cuisine' and I do hope that heaven would have a branch. And oh, do check out their Ginseng Chicken which seems promising but unfortunately ran out when I visited.

Se Ra Bel Korean Restaurant
60 Eu Tong Sen Street
Furama City Centre (Furama Hotel)

Chew On This: Se Ra Bel will be closed from 13-30th November as they will be moving to #03-01 in the same building. Use your American Express or HSBC card to get a 20% discount.